These are the technologies you don’t even know your small business needs now
If your small business is using six emerging technologies, then you’re ahead of the curve. Three leading artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots—Anthropic’s Claude, Google’s Bard and OpenAI’s ChatGPT—confirm most small businesses don’t yet know they need to be using six key technologies. Without these innovations, your company risks losing customers, falling behind competitors, experiencing higher costs and lower margins, elevating security risks, providing poor customer service and failing to attract and retain qualified employees, among other dangers.
While even one of those risks by itself likely surfaces some understandable anxiety, considering the combined power of all six threats acting together should prompt businesses not yet testing or implementing these technologies to begin exploring corresponding opportunities. Just which technologies do small businesses need to adopt? The AI chatbots agree small firms should avoid overlooking six specific emerging technologies.
Imagine asking an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot whether your small business needs to be using AI chatbot technologies. What do you suspect the answer will be? Let’s just say it’s similar to the proverbial question observing what happens if you ask a barber whether you need a haircut; the answer is yes.
The AI chatbots remind small businesses they should be using the generative artificial intelligence solutions for several purposes. The capabilities include automating customer service functions, responding quickly to inquiries regardless of the time of day the inquiries are received, analyzing common data and even industry- or company-specific metrics to generate insights and subsequently improve strategic decision making, personalizing customer interactions and automatically responding to common employee policy, procedure and benefits questions.
Many companies are already employing AI in clever and effective ways. Many retailers are using AI chatbots to review individual customer shopping trends to generate more accurate and personalized recommendations. And while not a small business, Walmart is using AI to improve inventory management and better predict seasonal demand for specific products.
Small businesses can deploy AI solutions in similar ways. Large enterprise scale isn’t required to tap the technology’s many benefits.
Known as the Internet of Things, IoT refers to various myriad devices and sensors that connect to networks and collect and exchange information with other equipment and systems. The corresponding Internet connectivity—including for such devices as thermostats, refrigerators, heating and ventilation systems and GPS sensors accompanying freight shipments—enables small businesses to often eliminate inefficient manual processes and better track and automate important monitoring, alerting, operations and maintenance responsibilities.
Statista analysis predicts demand for IoT connected devices will continue growing for the next seven years.
All told, there’s much IoT sensors can accomplish. IoT devices can track inventory stock and movements, monitor systems’ health and performance, automatically adjust supply chain systems based on real-time developments, automate security systems responses to specific conditions, tweak building management systems, enable precise modifications of field systems and equipment to optimize operations and even receive and process nontraditional methods of payment.
The corresponding data and resulting automation potential give many small businesses a competitive advantage. IoT advantages also help lower operating expenses and enhance efficiencies, two attractive factors for almost every small organization where running particularly lean is more important than within many larger enterprises.
AR and VR
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) aren’t just for entertainment or gaming. Innovative businesses are adopting these technologies, which provide interactive experiences (typically using a headset, eyeglasses or similar hardware) that meld real world sight with computer-generated (hence the augmented) content, particularly to aid training but for other compelling purposes, as well. Virtual reality systems, in which the entire experience is computer-generated, are also finding important application within small businesses.
Innovative businesses are using the technologies to power marketing efforts, assist customers in visualizing specific products (such as Warby Parker and Apple are doing on a larger scale) and training employees on processes and the use of new systems (such as at FedEx and Verizon). While those examples involve larger companies, the same advantages and often cost-efficient expenses are available to smaller organizations, too.
Statista data confirms AR and VR adoption is only getting started.
Designing more appealing and better functioning products, providing virtual tours and enabling more compelling remote collaboration opportunities (including viewing and manipulating maps, products, designs and models in 3D) are additional examples of AR and VR capabilities. Even small companies can reasonably employ these technologies that are only going to become more widespread.
The US Chamber of Commerce, for example, notes AR and VR products are expected to reach an annual growth rate of more than 150 percent next year. Fortunately, smaller firms don’t require massive budgets to take advantage of the trend. The agency confirms small businesses, too, can use AR and VR to build corresponding functionality within their business cards, provide sampling experiences and tours, enhance safety training and gain advantages recruiting new employees.
Another significant way technological innovation is eliminating time-consuming and often cumbersome manual tasks is via automation. Software systems that collect data and automate calculations and actions based on a subsequent analysis of the collected data and information can prove a big advantage. Such automation software is increasingly being employed by small businesses to both lower costs and improve productivity and efficiencies.
Automation software provides small organizations with a variety of potential benefits. For example, firms are using automation software for business intelligence data collection and decision making and dashboard and scorecard production. They’re also employing automation software to complete common accounting processes, fulfill a range of marketing routines (including coordinating and improving email and social media campaigns) and generate reports.
Examples of automation apps small businesses are already employing include Microsoft’s Business Intelligence platform (included with many Microsoft 365 enterprise subscriptions or as inexpensive standalone licenses for smaller firms), HubSpot to aid and assist managing marketing campaigns, Airtable for empowering coding workflows and ClickUp for reducing manual operations for a variety of independent workflows and processes. The time and labor subsequently freed by the automation apps can then be redirected to more demanding and higher value tasks or simple be recorded as eliminated expenses.
One emerging technology is particularly easy for many small businesses to overlook. Blockchain, which initially made headlines due to its close association with cryptocurrencies, can prove confusing. Its distributed nature runs counter to many standards and philosophies often associated with proprietary business systems.
Blockchain gets its name from the actual chain of blocks collected from transactions being recorded and stored within public ledgers that are shared across independent computers across the Internet. There is no centralized ledger and each computer, or node, stores a copy of the entire blockchain that can be viewed by anyone.
Just how does such a decentralized transaction ledger help small businesses? That’s a fair question. Here’s the answer. The reason you keep hearing and reading about blockchain is there are significant advantages to deploying the concept. The technology is particularly adept aiding supply chain and logistical processes, enabling faster vendor and customer payments with lower processing expenses, enhancing data security and even managing contracts. For example, blockchain technology better protects data integrity by tracking and verifying all changes across a vast network of independent nodes and permits creating digital contracts that automatically execute specific actions when specific conditions are reached, including automating payments and committing product shipments.
Another technology often overlooked by many small businesses is formal customer relationship management (CRM) software. Typically cloud-based, CRM platforms offer even small organizations a powerful and affordable solution that can be deployed rapidly to better track activities and more effectively manage customer communications than manual processes.
Method, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, Salesforce, SugarCRM and ZohoCRM are five popular options small firms can employ to boost sales, improve customer service and accelerate the sales cycle. Whether making it easier to close sales, service customer requests, onboard new clients, complete contracts or fulfill other common customer and sales functions, CRM systems help small businesses gain efficiencies and, subsequently, lower costs by saving expenses with the elimination of more cumbersome and complex manual processes that often aren’t as accurate or timely.
While more mature a technology than many of the others listed here, CRM systems remain a key component that can assist small firms in better optimizing critical processes. They key is to overcome any resistance and fear believing these cloud-based platforms are only for massive companies with behemoth budgets. That’s just not the case.
What’s Your Next Step?
The three popular AI chatbots agree. These are technologies your small business needs that you don’t even know you need now.
Hopefully, you’re already taking advantage of at least a few of these platforms. Should you need help tackling others or even getting started with any of these six innovative solutions, give us a call. We’d be happy to help. You can contact one of our technology experts at 502-897-7577 or by emailing [email protected].